Opinion: Everyone should be learning a new language

Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

The process of actively learning a new language offers a number of health benefits and creates more opportunities in areas like careers and social relationships. 

People who are bilingual often stand out in the competition for jobs. In an article from New American Economy, it’s stated that the demand for bilingual workers over the past five years has more than doubled in the United States. The article also specifies that workers who speak Spanish, Mandarin and Arabic are in high demand for these employers.

According to U.S. census data, 21% of the population in the United States speaks a language other than English at home, and 13.5% of the population uses Spanish. In Idaho specifically, 8.2% of the population are Spanish speakers.

Learning another language opens the door to creating relationships with people from other cultures and languages. In an article from Ecole Bilingue de Berkeley, they list the benefits of being bilingual, one of which is the ability to make friends in more than one language.

This means more opportunities to meet new people, enjoy different hobbies and activities and be more socially adept. 

The health benefits from learning a new language can also include enhancing problem-solving skills, improving verbal and spatial abilities and allows you to be more creative thinking. 

ACTFL Language Connects states that these benefits have been proven to strengthen student performance in standardized tests, reading achievement and academic performance at college level. 

When your brain is learning new skills, it’s working to remember new words, make the connections between them and use them in context. According to an article from Middlebury Language Schools, learning a new language improves memory, ability to multitask and academic performance.

In a quote from an article written by Caitlin Ware, “Bilingualism has been linked to higher cognitive reserve, better performance in executive control, changes in brain structure and function relative to monolinguals, and delay in dementia onset.” 

[A student practices the American Sign Language alphabet.]
Taya Thornton | The Arbiter

This means that learning languages, especially later in life, helps to improve cognition and promote neuroplasticity (also known as the brain’s ability to reorganize itself after forming new connections). 

Learning a new language may seem daunting at first, but there are many free resources available to help you get started on your language-learning journey.

I am currently studying Spanish and German, and a big motivator holding me accountable to studying a bit every day is following my friends on Duolingo, a free app and website. This source has lessons that teach you to read and write in your target language, as well as exercises that strengthen your listening comprehension and pronunciation. 

When reaching a new milestone, my friends and I are able to send each other congratulations through the app. Duolingo allows you to keep up with how much your friends are studying and will even host friend challenges where users can complete a set of tasks with a friend. 

Other free apps include Memrise and Babbel which teach in a lesson structure, and HelloTalk, an app that connects users to native speakers allowing them to both learn a new language and help others improve their English. 

I have studied a number of different languages over the years, and with understanding a new language, I feel a great sense of pride in myself. Nothing is better than finally understanding something in your target language without any assistance. 

Some of the music I enjoy is in Spanish and Korean, and there have been times when I’ve comprehended lyrics as I’m listening, and it’s very exciting. Studying languages helps me to create a better understanding of different cultures and also allows me to enjoy non-English spoken media on a deeper level. 

Even if just casually, I think everyone should be learning a new language. For Boise State students, the university offers twelve different languages that can be taken for a minor or certification including Arabic, French and Japanese! Not only does it have proven health benefits, but it’s also a great source of gratification and there is always a demand for it.

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